According to the leading mental health charity in the UK, Mind, ‘approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year’. Note: this isn’t 1 in 4 people during someone’s lifetime, this is per year. That’s a lot of people with a lot of problems. Although there is so much good work being done to support people’s mental health, and people are more openly talking about it, there continues to be stigma and a massive lack of education on the subject. Put simply, there’s still a lot of work to do in this field, and people still don’t seem to understand the scariest fundamental truth about mental health: not talking about it could kill you.
I have always had a good life. I’m not saying I don’t have my fair share of problems, but I do have a loving and accepting family and wonderful friends. I went to a good school, a good University, got a decent grade and I never had to worry about money in any real way. Essentially, everything I needed or wanted I had – I had no ‘reason’ to be depressed.
However, something was wrong. Unlike some, I didn’t have a definitive event or moment when I became depressed and I can’t remember when or where it really started, but I do know that I ignored a bunch of signals. I started having regular panic attacks, to the extent I woke up one morning in the midst of one. It probably should’ve worried me when I had one whilst picking up my gown on graduation day; on what was meant to mark one of my greatest achievements to date, I felt like an imposter in my own life.
After graduation my mental health got worse, and I was in perpetual state of denial. The thing was, I felt I was just being dramatic. I wasn’t ‘sadder’ than everyone else; to think that would be self-involved and stupid, and why was I thinking about myself this much anyway? I needed to stop being so selfish and arrogant and focus on someone else for a change.
As these thoughts would circulate in my head daily, I was becoming more and more apathetic, hopeless and exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Feeling that kind of emptiness is hard to describe, but for me it was being constantly, utterly, and negatively overwhelmed, while simultaneously, not quite being able to care that I was feeling that way. Doing anything seemed both impossible and pointless; I did (and felt) nothing.
Depression is often cyclical and as my mental health started to deteriorate the unhelpful internal dialogue began to impact my external world. The simple things like taking care of myself – my eating, my sleeping, my exercise, my appearance, my relationships, my flat – became a daily battle; sometimes it’d take me half an hour to put on a pair of tights. It wasn’t until I was actively thinking about whether or not I could successfully hang myself with my laptop power cord, that I realised I had a problem. Even I knew that it was a red flag when I started having suicidal thoughts.
It was then I went to the doctor and I was incredibly lucky, because I found one who immediately believed me. This is really important – if you are going through these problems and you don’t have a doctor who 100% believes you, find another doctor. You’re not crazy and you need someone to help you. Fortunately for me, I had a positive experience and was given excellent advice.
I was put on the anti-depressant, anti-anxiety medication Citalopram and, although my mental state was on the way to improving I made some incredibly hard decisions to maintain my mental and emotional health. At the age of 24, I quit my stable job, moved back to my hometown to live with my parents and, consequently, ended my relationship of four years (a relationship that I was convinced was going to end in marriage, kids, the works). If my life were a building, it had been systematically torn down until only the foundations were left.
Nevertheless, although this decimation was painful, and I felt I had to re-establish who I was, I began to learn what was good for me. I gained confidence about how I could battle through my toughest days and begin to hope that tomorrow might be better. It gave me perspective: I now know what I want and need to prioritise to make sure I’m as happy and healthy as I can be.
One of the imperative elements of this journey was me actually talking about how I felt, consciously and continuously. Partly to not let negative thoughts fester in my head, and partly to make sure there was no denial in how I felt about anything. It would be a lie to say that ‘the more I talked about it the better I felt’, but it was – and still is – good to share my story with people. Three things consistently surprise me when I do:
- You’re never as alone as you think you are.
- You’re definitely more loved than you think you are.
- Just by talking you can really help others, or be helped by them.
The Mental Health Foundation states that ‘women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders’. I think it’s important to remember, as women, that strength is not defined by soldiering on and pretending that nothing is wrong. Instead, it should be defined by creating a dialogue, supporting and encouraging each other, and – when we’re ready – sharing our stories. This is how I believe we can move forward.
Written by Rachel Foster
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